ACLU Demands That County Put Up Christmas Tree To Match Menorah:

Yup, that's what the Maui News reports. The threat apparently worked.

The county had earlier let a Jewish group put up a menorah. The ACLU argued (likely correctly, given existing Establishment Clause precedent) that a stand-alone menorah would be seen by reasonable observers as a religious symbol, while a menorah coupled with a Christmas tree — which the Court has (in my view, quite correctly) held to be a secular symbol — would be seen as a permissible secular celebration of the holiday season.

One can certainly criticize constitutional doctrine that calls for such decisionmaking (though if you want to criticize it, you might want to read the leading case, Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU, first). But given this doctrine, the ACLU's position seems quite sound.

The rabbi, to his credit, doesn't object to the county's putting up the tree. "I think it's wonderful," he reportedly said. "It's just in the spirit of holiday festivities, and educating the community about different celebratory events."

Thanks to Allen Asch for the pointer.

Jeff Shultz (mail):
Hmmmm. So now we know how to keep all the Christmas tree display's up that the ACLU hates - just park a menorah next to them.
12.22.2006 4:56pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
A Menorah is a religious symbol it shouldn't be up there unless accompanies by a nativity scene (if done properly also a religious symbol) and then add some christmas trees and snowmen and reindeer. I object to the trend of trying to equate a menorah to a christmas tree when it is more properly equivalent to either a nativity scene or a cross. I'm not at all against the menorah, but I am against a menorah without a nativity scene. I don't mind if secular symbols like Christmas trees, reindeer, and snowmen are also included. Maybe even a have you seen this person milk carton of Madelyn Murry Ohare for all the atheists.

Says the "Dog"
12.22.2006 5:40pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
See also my 2 minute 31 second YouTube video on the ACLU of Hawaii's fight for Christmas at: WHAT WAR ON CHRISTMAS? ACLU Fights for Christmas Tree!

Hope everyone has happy holidays :-)
12.22.2006 6:06pm
Yo, Dog, I would think that a more proper analog to the pine tree as a symbol would be the dreidel. So {trees, wreaths, packages, dreidels, santas, snowmen, elves} count as "cultural" whereas {menorahs, creches, crosses, stars of david, angels} would count as religious.
12.22.2006 6:23pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
There is an inflatable (go figure) dreidel next to the menorah.

I mentioned this in the earlier thread, where I noted that there are so few Jews on Maui that when my friend's son died he had to fly in two adult men in order to have a minyan for kaddish.

Except for the ACLU, there has been zero reaction to the menorah. Not one letter or call to The Maui News, nothin'.

My guess is that at least half the people going into the county building had no idea what the menorah was (it is perhaps the world's ugliest menorah, too, it looks like the exhaust system scavenged from a dragster).
12.22.2006 6:40pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Well, that's it! The courts have led the way. This Christmas I'm going to go ahead and embrace my religious sentiments by worshiping the fir in my living room.

What did Boniface know anyhow? He didn't realize the tree was really in fact sacred to Christians too.
12.22.2006 6:50pm
Ben Hall:
Interestingly enough, just today I was in downtown Gainesville Florida, where there is a large,lit menorah in front of the county courthouse without a christmas tree in sight. I was just wondering if anywhere had challenged such a thing. And here comes this story.

12.22.2006 6:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I see that Asch lists this event as 'the ACLU defending Christianity,' but as Professor Volokh notes, the legal justification is defending secularism, not Christianity.

Christianity does not really need defending on Maui, one of the most fervently Christian counties in the country.
12.22.2006 6:53pm
Mark Field (mail):

I'm not at all against the menorah, but I am against a menorah without a nativity scene.

It will never happen again, so I'm going to grab this opportunity to say it: I agree with the "Dog".
12.22.2006 6:55pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
Harry Eagar wrote:

I see that Asch lists this event as 'the ACLU defending Christianity,' but as Professor Volokh notes, the legal justification is defending secularism, not Christianity
I agree that including this case on my list was a close call. As I explain on my webpage, the two kinds of cases I include are ones in which

1) The ACLU defends a Christian speaking as a Christian
2) The ACLU defends the practice of Christianity

I included this case under #2 because, in my opinion, displaying a Christmas tree on Christmas is part of the practice of (American) Christianity. In contrast, for example, I recently decided not to include the case here: Supreme Court Takes Bong Hits 4 Jesus

In that case, I decided the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner was not really someone speaking as a Christian even though it included the word "Jesus." Again, a close call.

So, I think your criticism is well founded and I appreciate the feedback :-)
12.22.2006 7:27pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Displaying a Christmas tree on Christmas is part of the practice of American culture, not the practice of American Christianity, unless you can show me a theological treatise to the contrary.

That American culture has a lot of roots in Christianity is certain, including the holidays that it celebrates. But, a tree is not nor has ever been a part of Christian liturgical practice.

Unless, it's a tree that has been cut into two boards and nailed together.
12.22.2006 8:02pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Cathyf, how is a Star of David religious rather than cultural?
12.22.2006 8:03pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
A menorah is as much a cultural icon as a religious one, and as such has been specifically permitted in such displays.
12.22.2006 8:50pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
A Menorah is a religious symbol. It symbolizes a very specific miracle that is celebrated at this time every year.

What does a Christmas tree "represent?" It's purely cultural.

Not that the Menorah doesn't also have "cultural" significance... what religious symbol doesn't? But it's far more religious than a Christmas tree.
12.22.2006 11:02pm
randal (mail):
Displaying a Christmas tree on Christmas is part of the practice of American culture, not the practice of American Christianity.

Ho ho ho, that's funny.

Clearly Christians think that the Christmas Tree symbolizes their religious holiday, and clearly non-Christians think that it does too.

So who are you talking about that thinks Christmas Trees are not part of the practice of American Christianity? What do they think they're part of the practice of?

Stating that it's possible to imagine a Christmas Tree as separate from Christmas is meaningless. No one thinks of it that way. You could make the same kind of statement about any symbol.

The only way you could get traction with your argument is if you claimed that Christmas itself is secular. There's some truth to that, but is that somewhere you really want to go? (And there's certainly not enough truth to it to say that Christmas is in fact so secular now that it can be considered as outside the practice of American Christianity.)

Although at the end of the day, I myself wouldn't mind taking Christ out of Christmas (just like I wouldn't mind taking the diety out of God), I think you'll find a strong reaction against that plan from both Christians and non-Christians. Just let me know when your Jewish friends are putting up Christmas Trees and I'll eat my stocking.
12.23.2006 3:11am
ReVonna LaSchatze:

If the religious menorah is up,
the nativity scene should go up.

If not one, neither.
A nice generic "holiday" tree.

It's sad how one special religion is honored in public, but the dominant one this time of year (Christianity) gets Xmas-ed out, genericized as Santa, gifts, and trees.
12.23.2006 4:58am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
So who are you talking about that thinks Christmas Trees are not part of the practice of American Christianity?

Non believers put up and decorate trees indoors this time of year. They like the tradition, but don't believe in Christ. "Christmas" trees are secular now like Santa and gifts. Sorry to break it to you, but the tree has nothing at all to do with the Christian story. It's part of the trappings.

What do they think they're part of the practice of? American tradition. Ask them if you don't believe me. It's not religious at all for many. If you have no religion, you tend to adapt to a genericized majority version.

Maybe we should stop trying to "equalize" the religions. Extremist Jewish people should stop trying to sell us on the Menorah as an equal secular symbol. It's not. The generic tree is the secularized version already. Lots of people put candles in their windows; maybe a candle could serve as the secular Jewish tradition?

Otherwise, keep the creche on religious, not public property. Otherwise, we have to accommodate all the minority religions on public space too. Is there really a need to "compete" publically so some religious children don't feel left out this time of year? I don't recall Christians hyping one of their minor holy days in say Sept. or Oct. to "compete" for attention with Yom Kippur or Passover. If you want to participate in the trappings --malls, gifts, tv specials -- go for it. If you want to ignore the celebrations, fine. But don't be jealous of the birth of the Christ child... look at his circumstances. It's not a story told to inspire jealousy or inferiority at all.
12.23.2006 5:08am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
I included this case under #2 because, in my opinion, displaying a Christmas tree on Christmas is part of the practice of (American) Christianity.

your opinion is wrong.

To me, this is why we don't teach religion in publicly funded schools -- vouchers or otherwise. Who knows what paid teachers would tell children about their religion?

It's sad to think that opinion passes for fact in the science classroom (not all Christians cannot accept evolution--another media myth) now. Examples like Allen's here demonstrates were he a teacher, he could be confidently proclaiming his opinion, which would be ... wrong.

(Show me one major religion that incorporates the tree story in the Christ story in any way, please. PS. Other than the Magi, it's not about material presents either, or jolly songs -- though we thank the often Jewish songwriters for providing this secular experience to all, also. Don't mix up the trappings with the religious story is all. The message -- the religious message -- is one that could be studied and learned from in these modern times, but it's a bit harder opening that true present.)
12.23.2006 5:15am
Lots of non-believing Jews put up and light menorahs! I think the argument that the Hannukah menorah is religious is wrong. While the traditional 7 branched menorah would clearly be religious, the 9 branched menorah is only associated with Hannukah and displayed during Hannukah by believing and non believers! If you disagree, point me me to scriptural authorities that say otherwise!
12.23.2006 11:49am
Mac (mail):
Just received this. Seemed an approrpriate time and place to pass it on.

Holiday Greetings to Everyone,

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for
an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress,
non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the (summer or winter
depending upon which hemisphere you are in) solstice holiday, practised
with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular
practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions
and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or
secular traditions at all.

I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically
uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that Great Britain is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms:
This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely
transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no
promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her /
himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

No trees were harmed in the sending of this message; however, a significant number of electrons might have been slightly inconvenienced.
12.23.2006 12:06pm
"Just let me know when your Jewish friends are putting up Christmas Trees and I'll eat my stocking."

Randal, not only do i have jewish friends that do this, i have jewish RELATIVES that do this.

look, the christmas tree is kind of like the old saturday night live routine - it's a floor wax and a dessert topping.

it IS a cultural thang MORE than a religious thing. heck, to some that are religious christians, it's a pagan symbol that should be removed, although most religious christians i know, even those that are "religious right" see it as harmless at worst and they have christmas trees (as well as creches etc.)

the secularity of christmas trees is such that i know many many non-christians (as i am sure you do) that christmas trees. i know agnostics who have them, and jews who have them (mostly the so called "secular jews" but i digress).
12.23.2006 12:42pm
Chris Bell (mail):
To add my two cents about "secular Christmas trees" I know that they're semi-religious, but I think the Court got it right by considering them largely secular. (Why also relieving the tension a complete ban would cause.)

Personally, I'm an atheist, but we still put up a Christmas tree and exchange gifts. I know its somewhat contradictory, but ... I don't know, my family has always done it and I like doing it. (The trees smell really good too.)

I think of it as accepting the parts of the holiday I like while rejecting the parts I don't. All the fun, none of the misplaced guilt.

I also celebrate Halloween without believing in the devil.
12.23.2006 1:01pm
markm (mail):

What does a Christmas tree "represent?" It's purely cultural.

By remaining green when the land is frozen and buried under snow, evergreen trees represent a promise that Odin will once again defeat the Frost Giants and bring back summer. Or something like that. Yule is celebrated at the time of year that another promise that summer will return becomes apparent to those that watch closely enough, that is, when the days start getting longer again. I don't know the details of the old Saxon celebration, but after 30-some years in northern Michigan, I certainly can understand the feeling behind it.

Err, what's this got to do with Christianity?
12.23.2006 1:46pm
dejapooh (mail):
As an American Jew (note, American goes first), I do not want to see Menorahs on Public Land, I do not want to see Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, or anything else. Why is the government obligated to honor every religion when it should honor none. If you want to put up a Living Nativity with 3 Jesuses and 27 wise men, go right ahead. I am sure if you do not have your own land, you can find people who will let you use their front yard. Same deal with Stores and Malls. If the Government owns the land, hands off. If a company owns the land, they can do whatever they want. It seems to me that this is the fairest way to handle things.
12.23.2006 2:05pm
Michael B (mail):
For emphasis, Xmas trees are not Xian symbols any more than most Xmas tree decorations Xian symbols.

Regardless though, concerning the paternalistic ACLU, let us give thanks, let us rejoice. It's as if the ACLU is presuming to chaperone all those quaint believers in fly-over country and beyond, those simple types who need to be chaperoned lest they start burning heretics at the stake and acting medieval. Of course, in vacantly imagining such (and yes, zealous secularists on the Left and elsewhere do think in this vein) they would never imagine ACLU and likeminded types rounding people up and placing them in Gulags where they're left to languish and die, en masse.

Here's a thought, if such displays, whether menorahs, xmas trees or creches or other, reflect a substantial portion of the local cultural interests, why is this an issue in the first place? Balance, reasonable and responsible settings and displays, etc., certainly, but denuding public forums via legal proscriptions is no less a censorious, ideological and socio-cultural statement than is allowing responsible forms of displays; in fact, arguably it's moreso as it allows overlords at the federal level to determine local policies that simply reflect the cultural preferences of those local populations. If one locale chooses to denude its public areas and another locale chooses a different course, within reason let the locals themselves choose, not a self-selecting group of overlords and presumptives seeking to impose their ethos and values in fly-over country and beyond.

Secularist sectarians and presumptives in general need to better educate themselves on some cultural and social/political basics, beginning with a more genuinely conceived tolerance, specifically the philosophical conceptions that undergird the legal/moral basis of such a better and more genuinely conceived tolerance.

I.e. the extant establishment clause precedent represents a problem, and needs review. Pushy proseletizing absolutely and incontestably needs to be proscribed and decidedly so, but the notion a star of David, menorah, cross, creche, etc. cannot be displayed in public forums, if that's what the local public and culture desires and can agree upon, then there shouldn't and needn't be proscriptions against such; no religion is being "established" via such, neither according to the Founders, orthodox or otherwise, nor according to responsible interpretations in our contemporary settings. Religion is not an isolable factor or artifact, for many it is part of the warp and woof and an undergirding support of important aspects of the culture, putative sophisticates notwithstanding.

And remember to sign up for that refresher course on tolerance, more genuinely and more honestly conceived.
12.23.2006 2:25pm
Michael B (mail):
Too, for some contemporary perspective, an example from Europe that we don't want to emulate, not via coercions applied by ACLU styled overlords or otherwise, excerpt:

"Christmas has become a sensitive topic between indigenous Dutch and Muslim immigrants. Muslims, who demonstrated recently against a government proposal to ban burqas and niqabs (i.e. veils covering the entire face), shouted slogans like: "Jesus has a beard, Mary wears a veil. Assimilation in Dutch society should start with the Christmas crib!""

Again demonstrating, if in an inverted form, the cultural values that people have a basic right to express without threat of undue, coercive proscriptions being applied.
12.23.2006 2:34pm
Paddy O. (mail):
"Clearly Christians think that the Christmas Tree symbolizes their religious holiday"

Again, show me this from any theological or liturgical treatise. Many conservative Christians prior to the 20th century refused to celebrate Christmas, let alone celebrate it with a tree.

I've heard of people returning to this.

That American Christians have a tree is assumed, but that's because the great majority of Americans have both been Christian while developing cultural traditions. For it to be a religious symbol there has to be a theological or liturgical basis for it that should be evident in some text. It should also be shown to have a historical basis within the liturgical practice of the Christ mass.

Most Christians would not say it is a religious symbol, but that it is a cultural symbol. Otherwise we'd have to also say that Will Ferrell made a delightful religious movie called Elf.
12.23.2006 4:43pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
According to my mother, the first Christmas tree in the United States was put up in the home of the constitutional scholar St. George Tucker, as I understand at the suggestion of a visiting German scholar. This is a piece of family lore and may not be true.

At any event, the Anglos got along without Christmas trees for around 1,500 years.
12.23.2006 5:05pm
Michael B (mail):
For the sake of an even more pointed emphasis, if Jewish or Christian or other communities wish to erect monuments that engrave the Shema (one of the great soundings in all of literature and in all of recorded history) or the ten commandments or some proclamation of liberty from Leviticus or elsewhere out of the "Good Book," that too should very much be allowed, not subverted. Again, forms of proselytizing very much and decidedly do need to be proscribed; in addition to being legally proscribed it should be an article of basic moral revulsion to attempt to trespass upon the will of others via any form of coercion/force, whether physically, psychologically or otherwise. That still admits of suasion and proselytizing in the private sphere, absolutely, but trespassing the will and basic humanity of others needs to be regarded first with moral revulsion and secondly proscribed de jure as well. But culturally significant hallmarks, reflecting germinal and formative aspects of a society/civilization, need not be proscribed, even if they have religious origins in addition to their critical cultural content. Overly sensitive publics do not need to be catered to, do not need to be rendered obsequious, kowtowing behavior under threat of legal coercions.

Don't tread on ...

More succinctly put, it's time to stop the presumptives and overlords from exerting their presumptive, self-authorized overlordships. The public square is the public's square, not a paternalistic endowment proscribed with undue, coercively applied "no trespass" signifiers pulled from the semiotic treasure chest of the latest post-modern and/or multi-culti presumptive and gnostic knower. Tolerance needs to be real, needs to be effected, and enforced, in the real world.
12.23.2006 6:23pm
"JUSTICE O'CONNOR also concluded that the city's display of a menorah, together with a Christmas tree and a sign saluting liberty, does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Christmas tree, whatever its origins, is widely viewed today as a secular symbol of the Christmas holiday. Although there may be certain secular aspects to Chanukah, it is primarily a religious holiday and the menorah its central religious symbol and ritual object. By including the menorah with the tree, however, and with the sign saluting liberty, the city conveyed a message of pluralism and freedom of belief during the holiday season, which, in this particular physical setting, could not be interpreted by a [492 U.S. 573, 576] reasonable observer as an endorsement of Judaism or Christianity or disapproval of alternative beliefs. Pp. 632-637." Justice Kennedy

OK, now I know why Justice O'Connor was part of the Iraq Survey Group. Oyvey.
12.23.2006 9:00pm
Please, let's get the courts out of the business of counting reindeer as quickly as possible.

FYI, in Israel, a (seven-branched) menorah is also used as a purely secular symbol -- it's part of the state seal.
12.23.2006 9:15pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
What does a Christmas tree "represent?" It's purely cultural.
A Christmas tree "represents" Christmas. Duh. Which makes it religious. What "culture" does it represent? Oh yeah -- Christian culture. Which makes it religious. This whole religious or cultural thing is a phony distinction.
12.24.2006 4:24am
except the christmas thing does NOT just represent christian culture, as keeps being pointed out.

first of all, Randal commented on finding any jews that were putting up christmas trees, and he'd 'eat his stockings'

he must be chock-full-o stockings by now, cause i have plenty of jewish friends and relatives who put up christmas trees. so, it does not just represent christianity.

far more people in the US celebrate "the trappings" of christmas than are actually christian.

it's very much a cultural things.

plenty of jews, plenty of atheists, and even my buddhist uncle has a christmas tree.

the christmas tree is part of americana. regardless of its origins, it has become such

CLEARLY, a creche etc. is a christian symbol far more than its cultural value

clearly, the christmas tree, while obviously a (weird kind of patchworked on) piece of christian culture is clearly NOT exclusive to christians, as all the jews, buddhists, agnostics, etc. who have christmas trees clearly shows.

it also has no REAL relation to the whole birth, life, death, and resurrection of jesus thang (contrast with a creche) that is kind of what the Christian Christmas (if that is not redundant) is all about
12.24.2006 1:58pm
AmieDesFeujs (mail):
Actually, I think that bigotry and intolerance are part and parcel of Christianity.

That is why Christians try to define a Christmas tree as "cultural". It solves the problem of "How do we fvck minority religions, particularly the Jews?"

Answer: Just define away the problem. "Christams trees are cultural and can be displaye by government."

Why insist upon ANY display on public property? Why not just stick to displaying on the church lawn usually right next doorto the town hall?
12.24.2006 2:56pm
many who are defining a christmas tree as cultural are not necessarily christians

you are assuming

again, if christmas trees did not have a hyooge cultural component why do so many NONchristians have christmas trees in their houses?

compare and contrast that with the # of non-christians who have creches, or other purely religious symbols.

note the distinction

amazing the way you ignore the reality, and the evidence

that, if anything, is a sign of bigotry and intolerance

note that i am not insisting on any display, nor am i speaking as a christian

i am merely speaking of a reality that your rhetoric cant' handle
12.24.2006 3:32pm
AmieDesFeujs (mail):
whitless said "again, if christmas trees did not have a hyooge cultural component why do so many NONchristians have christmas trees in their houses?"

Pressure to conform -- one of the major reasons why government was forbidden from endorsing religion in the first place.
12.24.2006 3:36pm

nice try

my pacifist, socialist and fiercely proud of it, jewish grandmother is a lot of things, but a conformist, she aint. she has a christmas tree though

i have another jewish relative who has a christmas tree. back in the reagan days, she had an 'ollie north star' on the tree. that was pretty funny

yer explanation is actually very elitist, in other words they are just weak people conforming to pressure, not free agents, exercising their free will who have christmas trees because they WANT to.

or my atheist buddy who makes fun of theists EVERY chance he gets, is the last person on earth to conform to anything.

but he has a christmas tree because he wants to.

ignore the evidence all you want.
12.24.2006 3:48pm
AmieDesFeujs (mail):
whitless said, "my pacifist, socialist and fiercely proud of it, jewish grandmother is a lot of things, but a conformist, she aint. she has a christmas tree though"

You have problems thinking, don't you? Pacifism &socialism have nothing to do with it. (I likely have more experience with both than either you or your grandmother.)

The key is the name. You called it a "Christmas tree," didn't you? Er, what's this word, "Christmas" containing .... "Christ"!

Visit India &then tell me the tree has nothing to do with Christianity ....

Oh, and your grandmother is indeed CONFORMING.

The ugly fact remains of Christianity finding excuses to keep on fvcking the Jews, although the USA may be far more benign than Europe (whcih actually has gone to the extent of political, economic, and military support for the would-be anti-Semitic genociders of Hiz and Hamas).

The USA keep it much milder, deciding only to retract the tolerant "Happy Holidays" and to shove Christian symbols like the tree on public property down the throat of Jews whether they like it or not.

Along with adoration of bigoted films like Gibson's.
12.24.2006 4:30pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Amie sez: 'That is why Christians try to define a Christmas tree as "cultural". It solves the problem of "How do we fvck minority religions, particularly the Jews?"'

Uh, in the Maui case, nobody from Maui, which is full of Christians, complained about the menorah. It was outside agitators who complained.
12.24.2006 8:29pm
AmieDesFeujs (mail):
You mean, it makes a difference whether local Christians vs mainland Christians screw the religious minority?
12.24.2006 11:19pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Uh, the religious minority didn't get screwed. Their menorah is still there.
12.25.2006 5:01pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Uh, in the Maui case, nobody from Maui, which is full of Christians, complained about the menorah. It was outside agitators who complained.

Which only further demonstrates the stupitity of thinking that the Establishment Clause applies to the States.
12.25.2006 11:34pm
The important part of the "religious symbol" is not the internal religious significance of the symbol. It is the external significance. A cross has far more internal significance to Christians than a star has for Jews, yet we treat them equally. Similarly, the Menorah has more internal significance to Jews than the Tree does for Christians, but we treat them equally as secular-friendly religious symbols. Both clearly represent religious holidays, and neither offends reasonable people of other faiths. Add in a Mandala, you have a multicultural inoffensive religious display.
But not all religious symbols are as secular-friendly. Put together a creche, a swastika, and a statue of Ganesh, and you cross the line to offensive - now it's *strong* symbols from different religions. There happens not to be much in Judaism that crosses the line to a strong symbol (you'd be hard pressed to find much in Judaism that a religious non-Jewish hospital would feel uncomfortable putting in the lobby) - the menorah certainly does not.
12.26.2006 2:26am
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Once upon a time, the King of Maui send his infant son into exile to die, because of a prophesy. That son grew up to steal a cannon from Captain Cook and use it to become the first King of Hawai'i, killing his father. That kingdom was overthrown by the Republic of Hawai'i in 1894, Sanford Dole president,and in 1898 the republic was annexed and became a US territory.
The Hawai'ian people were displaced from their land, to grow sugar cane and pineapples, while ships came to kill the whales, and christain missionaries came to disrupt the culture and try to eradicate the language. Here's a different story about the ACLU on Maui. I think that an Xmas tree is far more likely to be seen as a state endorsement of religion than the menorah was. Today as I watched the sun sink into the pacific from the hama kamahole condo where my family has gathered for christmas, in an annual potlatch ceremony of conspicious consumption, I thought about the island off to the left. The hawaiians had cut down the trees and eroded the soil. Later it was used as a penal colony, then as a bombing range, now it's a desolate wasteland, but with the right financing one could build desalination plants, condos, and plant norfolk pines to sell as christmas trees to future tourists, perhaps japanese. Last night I attended a hula christmas play at a local church. The local customs are being blended with the messianic meme that came out of the middle east a few thousand years ago, and along the way assimilated the yule tree. The christmas tree put up at city hall was probably imported from Washington State -it's not practical to cut down the few evergreens here on the island. Figuring out appropriate public policy is not as simple as counting reindeer. Cases are fact specific.
12.26.2006 4:48am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Sheesh. Where to begin?

The tree came from Helen McCord's tree farm in Kula, Maui. That was in The Maui News story.

The first part is wrong in every particular. The first king of Hawaii was not the son of a king of Maui, he did not kill his father, he did not steal a cannon from Capt. Cook, the Hawaiians did not work on sugar and pineapple planations, the overthrow of the Kingdom was not in 1894.

aardvark even misspells the name of the condo he's staying in.
12.26.2006 1:40pm
Michael B (mail):
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." Article I, U. S. Constitution

The extant extablishment clause precedent, decided in County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989), was decided in a particularly close*** 5-4 decision with Kennedy, Rehnquist, Scalia and White dissenting on the basis of the majority's "unjustified hostility toward religion, a hostility inconsistent with our history and our precedents ...," and a hostility based upon and leveraged by the majority's misconceived reliance upon Lemon v. Kurtzman's (1971) conceptualization of a "principal or primary effect" that advances or inhibits religion. (*** In addition to the razor-thin 5-4 decision itself, both affirming and dissenting justices note the problems inherent in deciding Establishment Clause cases: "this difficult area," Kennedy, dissenting, and "Judicial review of government action under the Establishment Clause is a delicate task," O'Connor, affirming.)

The four justice dissenting view in Allegheny v. ACLU, read in light of what Article I of the Constitution clearly stipulates, can be shown to be the more informed, timely and soundly reasoned view, one that avoids both, contrasting aspects of the Establishment Clause.

However, in addition to the language Justice Kennedy used in writing the more balanced (and Constitutionally more probative) opinion, it would have been prudent to underscore the nature of competing ultimate truth claims that inhere to ideologies/philosophies no less than to "religions," more traditionally conceived. In that vein it's no mere incidental, cultural artifact that since Raymond Aron, in fact prior to Aron, the term "secular religion" has justly been applied to various weltanschauung. That's obviously a mere gloss to a vast and highly complex set of philosophical, legal/moral and other topics, but it's highly germane to the evolution of intellectual and other relevant histories that continue to both inform and misinform legal opinion such as that reflected in the five justice majority view in Allegheny v. ACLU.

A general world view or weltanschauung, whether it's a view that 1) contains positive religious content, 2) is markedly and forcefully hostile to religion or 3) is more simply and benignly areligious, remains a weltanschauung, regardless. Individuals and therein the public in general will decide, within their freedom of conscience and general freedom of choice, what weltanschauung they will adopt; not various elites, but individuals qua individuals will choose. Too, sophistication (of philosophical critiques, not rhetorical/semiotic sophistication) does not inhere to one of these categories over the other - contrary to variously fitful and popular enthusiasms; also contrary to some well promulgated dogmas and cant forwarded by the Sam Harrises, the Dennetts, the Carolyn Porcos, the Dawkinses, NYT religion editors, et al. of the world in their heavily invested capacity as decided anti-Christian and anti-religious ideologues.

Religion, in general or in specific forms, can obviously be critiqued as it impinges upon the social/political arena, and otherwise as well. But. But no more so (and no less) than various atheistic and anti-theistic ideologally based world views can likewise be critiqued - even though the latter often tends to grant itself pride of place, tends to indulge itself in a rhetoric and general semiotics that presumes otherwise.
12.26.2006 3:04pm
randal (mail):
Everything is going as planned.

I'm delighted by the number of comments that hold Christmas itself to be wholly secular. Thank you Sandra!

I've always expected the death of Christianity to come from overexposure, in both the cultural and political realms.

The next step will be a 5-4 Kennedy opinion holding that "under God" is allowable because the word "God" is content-free, meaning only "something other", a definition not even an athiest could find objectionable. A Supreme Court decision secularizing God - what could be jucier!

Then on to Easter.
12.27.2006 4:16am